Thailand Travel Guide

You Can Get the Death Penalty for Taking a Photo on This Beach

PHOTO: Miki Studio/Shutterstock

The Thai government clearly doesn't want you to do this.

Mai Khao Beach, part of Sirinat National Park, is the longest beach on Phuket. There are some stretches were you can walk for a decent amount of time and only encounter fisherman. One of those stretches, however, is a hotspot for tourists. They gather in crowds to watch planes fly overhead and into Phuket International Airport (HKT) at incredibly low angles. Taking selfies while planes buzz the beach is so popular that Phuket airport officials are putting a stop to it by telling holidaymakers to stop taking photos…or face the death penalty.

Um, OK, How Do I Avoid the Death Penalty?

Not all areas of Mai Khao Beach will prohibit photography. “We are setting up a safety zone which will be categorized as a strictly prohibited area that does not allow people and tourists to take pictures,” says Phuket airport’s Deputy General Manager, Vijit Keawsaitiam. Only photos taken in this zone will be considered a violation of the Air Aviation Act of 1978, which includes the death sentence as the maximum punishment.

However, not every selfie-taking tourist will get the maximum penalty. Less harsh (but still stern) punishments for snapping photos include a 40,000 baht ($1,254.70) fine or a 20-year jail sentence. Though no evidence has been directly provided to suggest selfies interfere with a pilot’s ability to land planes, Phuket airport officials say that taking pictures of a plane can be as potentially distracting to pilots as drones or laser pens making harsh punishment necessary to stop the practice.

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Joey Santini/Shutterstock

Will My Next Vacation End Just Like Brokedown Palace?

It’s hard to see this story and not think about the 1999 thriller starring Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale. And it’s helpful to know that this movie about a high school student who winds up spending 33 years in jail for carrying a friend’s package is based on several true stories about American women who wound up doing serious time in Thai prison.

Thailand is no stranger to doling out harsh punishments to tourists. However, they also have a history of letting tourists who don’t create drug-related offenses (and wind up in the headlines) off light. In 2017, a pair of cheeky Instagram influencers who were charged with “religious insults” after mooning the camera in front of a local temple faced seven years in prison but were eventually let off with a fine. In 2007, a Swiss artist was sentenced to 75 years in prison for spray-painting on top of posters of Thailand’s late king, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in Chiang Mai, but was pardoned by the King himself just one month after being convicted. However, tourists can be convicted to the full extent of the law, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Don’t Be Discouraged, Thailand Makes for a Gorgeous Tourist Destination–Especially Its Beaches

While Thailand isn’t without danger for tourists, it is divine. It’s on our 2019 Go List and is home to some of our favorite beaches on the planet. Mai Khao Beach is beautiful and you can still enjoy taking photos of planes over the beach outside the restricted area. However, if you’re looking to enjoy Phuket’s beaches with zero threat of jail time or a fine, there are plenty of other tropical paradises where you can take pictures without worrying about fines or jail time.

If you want to be close to Phuket Airport, try off-the-beaten-path Nai Harn, located about two hours from Phuket airport at Phuket’s southern tip. It’s so serene, we would wade through its clear waters every day if we could. Kata Beach is ideal for familiesyou’ll find a wave park at its entrance where you can rent surfboards, and it’s great for scuba divers (just don’t take the coral). Or, try Ao Sane, which has plenty of shade and is great for laying out with a book until the sun sets. Check out 15 other sublime Thai beaches here.